Sundance 2017: Killing Ground
Damien Power’s Killing Ground takes a tired formula of young lovers running from townie hunters and smartly works with dramatic irony and dual timelines to add suspense where viewers who have seen movies like this before might not feel it. I only wish his eye for the grindhouse-style brutality in the story worked as smartly.
The film centers on Ian and Sam, going away for a post-Christmas camping holiday into the Australian bush. They’re young, in love, and in over their heads in trying to navigate to a camping spot. When after being directed by Chook, a local, to divert from their intended destination, they come upon another tent at their spot, abandoned and in shambles. When the owners don’t return the next morning, they decide to go back to town and report it. Then Sam finds a baby wandering alone. It all goes downhill from there, for everyone involved.
Power pulled double duty, writing and directing his debut story of survival in the Australian bush, and guided convincing performances uniformly from his cast. Standouts are Harriet Dyer, playing Sam, and Maya Stange, playing Margaret, in separate timelines to tell the film’s taut yarn. Dyer carries most of the dramatic weight in the film, and never wavers in the strength of her performance. Never for a second does she have a moment that doesn’t come off as sincere, or honest.
But the grindhouse nature of such a film requires a kind of visceral brutality that Power shies away from—time and again, he favors wide shots that allow the frame to distance the viewer from the violence, lessening its impact. When he does pull in, he focuses on the character committing the violence, leaving the actual act off-frame. This leaves the suspense with no release or payoff, and the film unsatisfying as a result.
Killing Ground has not secured US distribution as of this writing.